Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

What’s Next For UFC Middleweight Demian Maia?

Demian Maia would appear to be between a rock and a hard place in the UFC middleweight division right now. Maia is still a very good fighter, but after losing a close unanimous decision against Mark Munoz at UFC 131, it’s difficult to see Maia fighting his way into a shot at the title anytime soon. Tatame has reported that Maia is expected to make his return at UFC 136 in Houston in October, and quotes his manager, Eduardo Alonso, as saying that it’s expected to be against a top 10 opponent.

If the USA Today / SB Nation consensus rankings are to be used as a guide, here’s what the top 10 at middleweight looks like:

  1. Anderson Silva
  2. Yushin Okami
  3. Chael Sonnen
  4. Ronaldo Souza
  5. Mark Munoz
  6. Demian Maia
  7. Vitor Belfort
  8. Brian Stann
  9. Nate Marquardt
  10. Michael Bisping

The opponent that would make the most sense to me is Michael Bisping. Like Maia, Bisping has a very impressive record but has three key losses that have derailed various attempts to earn a title shot. They also have very similar SILVA scores: 44.11 for Maia to 43.22 for Bisping. If Maia was to win the fight, it would give him a quality win against a highly-ranked opponent that he could build on. If Bisping was to win the fight, it would give him the marquee win that he needs to break into real title contention in the middleweight division.

Only one problem: Bisping is already slated to fight Jason “Mayhem” Miller after coaching the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

So who should Maia fight? Anderson Silva is not an option, for obvious reasons. Okami is fighting Silva for the title at UFC 134. Chael Sonnen is making his return against Brian Stann (and Maia already beat Sonnen by first-round triangle choke at UFC 95). Souza fights for Strikeforce, Munoz just beat Maia, Belfort is facing Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133, and Marquardt is out of the organization.

The way I see it, unless Maia is matched up against Vitor Belfort (provided Belfort beats Akiyama next month), he’ll have to settle for facing an opponent outside of the top 10. Here are a couple suggestions:

  • Jorge Santiago: Santiago is just outside of the top 10, and has a very similar Fight Level to Maia (22.98 for Maia, 22.75 for Santiago). But I have a feeling that this won’t happen, mostly due to Santiago’s poor 1-3 UFC record. I think Santiago is more likely to fight a much lower-level opponent in his next fight.
  • Chris Leben: Leben’s riding high after his quick KO of Wanderlei Silva at UFC 132, and may have just become a title contender again. He’s shown he can win a slugfest, but to advance any further, he’ll have to show he can beat somebody with a different style.

After that, it’s hard to see a fight that would make any sense. If I was Joe Silva, Maia vs. Leben is the fight I would make, and I would give Santiago a lower-level fight.

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